Feds arrest crime ringleader in connection with Dom and Bruno murders

Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira were killed in a remote Amazon region. Photo: Gabriela Biló/Folhapress
Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira were killed in a remote Amazon region. Photo: Gabriela Biló/Folhapress

Federal Police in the state of Amazonas have arrested Peruvian-Brazilian citizen Rubens Villar Coelho in connection with the murders of British journalist Dom Phillips and indigenous expert Bruno Pereira last month.

Nicknamed “Colômbia,” Mr. Coelho is accused of being the brains and the bank behind an illegal fishing ring operating in the western Brazilian Amazon — particularly in and around the Vale do Javari indigenous territory.

It is believed that Messrs. Phillips and Pereira were killed as a result of the latter’s work to combat illegal fishermen in the Vale do Javari.

The illegal fishing scheme consists of trespassing on protected indigenous lands to collect large quantities of valuable pirarucu fish and tracajá river turtles, which are then sold at a fence on the island of Islandia, across the border with Peru.

Colômbia is the owner of said fence, which consists of a floating barge on the Javari River, on the outer edge of Islandia. He reportedly supplies men with the boats and equipment required for their illegal expeditions into the Vale do Javari reserve, trips which can cost an estimated BRL 250,000 (USD 48,500) but can turn profits in excess of BRL 500,000.

Colômbia reportedly uses the buying and selling of fish on his floating barge as a front for drug trafficking, supplying narcotics to Brazilian organized crime groups. Several sources in the region confirmed this information to The Brazilian Report for an article published on June 23 but were unwilling to go on the record out of fears for their personal safety.

On Thursday, a state judge ruled that the Dom Phillips-Bruno Pereira murder case should go to federal jurisdiction as it concerns the protection of indigenous rights. The decision goes in line with pleas from left-wing lawmakers — who believe that federalizing the case will shield it from unlawful interference from local criminal groups.